Low car usage maintenance tips


I’m a grad student of the dirt poor variety in Fort Collins, CO. In my richer days I managed to purchase a '94 BMW 325IS which has for the most part been reliable, faithful, and occasionally fun. These days I bike to school and so need my car very infrequently - on the order of once every two weeks at most. My question is two fold:

1. What are some general maintenance tips on keeping a very low use car in good working order


2. How much of this maintenance can I do myself on this car? I’m generally handy enough to make mechanical things I work on worse only about 90% of the time and would like to save as much money as I can.



You really should drive it more than once every two weeks. I’d drive it to warm-up temp twice a week if it were my car. Keep the gas tank over half and change your oil at 3000 if you opt for the short warmup trips I suggest as this is considered by some to be tough on engine oil. Keep it clean and wax twice a year, fix problems as they come up. Rocketman


Maintenance? Oil changes, brakes, exhaust, plugs, wires, cap, filters should pretty much do it unless you have a garage and a good set of tools, which I assume you lack due to your description of your current student status. Stay in school and study hard, it’ll be worth it. Good luck! Rocketman


If you are looking for special or extra maintenance tasks than would not be needed for a daily driver, there aren’t any. Just drive when you feel like it and you can ignore the car in between trips. A low-usage car does not require any treatment above and beyond that of a more frequently used car.

It would be prudent to own a battery charger since you might occasionally have starting difficulties.


Change your oil every 6 months if you taking short trips around town even though not much mileage.

Running every two weeks is fine. My last car saw that for over a two years and had little affect on my ownership period (9yrs/225,000 miles). It was sitting in Airport parking garages 2-3 weeks while I traveled for work.


All good suggestions, thanks.

I actually am fortunate enough to live in a house with a garage I can use and am much happier spending money on tools than on service I can probably do myself (not to mention that working on cars is fun). I have a good repair manual (Haynes) for my car that I’ve used for other problems and have had a good amount of success with it. I’m planning on doing the maintenance mentioned in your posts myself, are any of them (brakes, exhaust, plugs, wires, cap, etc.) things I should consider bringing to a shop instead? Thanks.


I agree. I have a car that routinely sits for two weeks at a time. It does not harm a car to sit unused.

When you DO drive the car, make sure you drive it long enough for everything to warm up completely. A half hour is enough, and try to include a bit of highway driving now and then.

Other than that there’s nothing special you should do.


Try each of these things yourself.

If you get stuck at any point, put things back the way
they were and drive to the shop.


On that car it may not be needed, but you may want to consider a battery charger. You can buy one that is designed for just this kind of situation. Since it is an older car with fewer computers running all the time, it may not be needed.


Once every 2 weeks is fine. Less than once a month would be more of a problem, but even that would be OK as long as each time you drive it you go for a 20 or 30 minute drive to get everything totally warmed up. Like others have said, change the oil twice a year and be happy. Check the owners manual for other things that should be checked or changed on a time basis. They might say to change the brake fluid every 2 years or something like that. I’d be especially careful to keep the coolant anti-freeze level up to snuff as well.

You could certainly change the oil yourself. Changing the coolant should not be too hard. Of course, keep the tire pressure correct and the car clean in general.